As fall approaches, the leaf blowers have already started up in our neighborhood. I could write about these noisy, polluting machines. I could also tell you how important leaves are in the garden as a natural mulch and how they contribute to the organic matter in the soil. I’ll save those topics for another day. It’s what leaf blowers are designed to do that troubles me.
Remember the Three Little Pigs story? The big bad
wolf (insert leaf blower) says “I’ll huff and I’ll puff till I blow your house down”.
Leaves provide habitat for so many organisms during the different stages of their lifecycles. Without a good layer of leaf litter left on the ground, we are severing so many of the connections in the food and plant web in our ecosystems. Leaves provide much-needed protection from cold temperatures during the winter months, as well as the fluctuating freeze-thaw cycles.
Wildlife gardeners want to provide food and habitat for all wildlife, right?
Consider a few of the many organisms that rely upon leaf litter and their relationship to others in the food web:
Gray tree frogs overwinter under leaf litter. They are abundant in our woodland garden during the summer months where they perch on both shrubs and perennials waiting for their meal of beetles, flies, bugs and bees.
Tree Frogs help keep insect populations in balance.
Wood frogs overwinter under leaf litter in woodlands. They travel from the woodlands to small ponds and wetlands where females lay eggs in the spring.
Wood frogs feed on beetles and crickets.
Wood Frogs are the prey of Great Blue Herons and other shoreland birds.
Some Salamander species also overwinter under leaf litter such as the Four-toed Salamander.
This late summer beetle visitor is an important pollinator of native perennials as they feed on pollen.
Goldenrod Soldier Beetles lay their eggs in leaf litter in the fall. The emerging larvae are food for spiders and beetles.
A voracious predator of other insects including aphids, true bugs, spider mites, and small caterpillars.
Adult Black Damsel Bugs overwinter as adults under leaf litter.
A beautiful hovering, day-flying moth that nectars on flowers, and aids in the pollination of many of our native plants.
Their caterpillars feed on viburnums and other native shrubs providing food for birds rearing their young.
The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth pupa overwinter in a cocoon in the leaf litter.
Another interesting day flying moth that nectars on flowers and inadvertently pollinates them too.
The larva of this moth overwinter under leaf litter.
A ground dwelling spider that does not weave a web. It hunts insects in the leaf litter.
It is also the prey of Spider Wasps, who paralyze the spiders and drag them back to their ground nest to rear their young.
As summer winds down, all Bumble Bees die except for the mated queens. The queens hibernate for the winter under leaf litter, or in abandoned rodent holes.
The queen builds a nest in the spring, often in leaf litter where she lays eggs in the waxy cells.
The Isabella Tiger Moth caterpillar overwinters under leaf litter. One of the first caterpillars to emerge in the spring.
Mourning Cloak Butterfly ~ Nymphalis antiopa
Mourning Cloak Butterflies are one of the first butterflies to emerge in spring (as early as March in the north) because they overwinter as adults, seeking shelter under leaf litter or behind bark.
Round Lobed Hepatica ~ Hepatica americana
One of the first woodland spring ephemeral natives to flower, it relies upon a thick blanket of leaves to protect it from freezing during the winter. Tiny native bees, such as the small carpenter bee depend on these early flowering natives as a source of nectar.
Due to the introduction of non-native earthworms, the leaf litter in many deciduous woodlands is devoured and there is insufficient layers of duff.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are studying the decline in spring ephemerals due to earthworms reducing the amount of leaf litter. Read about the study here.
So how many reasons do you need to leave some leaves in your landscape?
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